Three Simple Words…

I work in a large office building in downtown Raleigh that has a café on the first floor. I was starving this morning, so I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would feed myself for lunch.  I happily realized that I had a customer appreciation card for the café downstairs.  When I pulled it out of my purse, I was even happier to see that it was fully stamped.  So I rode the elevator to the first floor and got in line to order my free yummy sandwich.

I already had a little hop in my step because I was getting a free sandwich, so when they asked me if I would buy a cookie to benefit the Special Olympics and the Over the Edge campaign, I gladly agreed… and got an AMAZING looking cookie for a good cause.

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When the man who works behind the counter called my name, I walked up to get my food.  He handed me the bag and said, “Have a nice day.” I turned to walk away and he uttered three more simple words:

“We appreciate you.”

I walked back to the elevator thinking about those three little words that may not pack too much of a punch when used in other contexts, but together they create a sentence that can go straight to the heart.  I started thinking about how often I SHOULD say that to people and do not.  Three simple words that can make a big difference in someone’s day!

So I am going to do a SHOUTOUT FRIDAY post today to show my appreciation for people in my life who I may not say to enough, “I appreciate you.”

1) MY AMAZING PARENTS – I know that they probably KNOW how much I appreciate them, but I probably don’t say it enough…

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My brother, my mother, me and my daddy at my wedding. My mom and dad did all of the flowers for us!

My mother and I talk a few times a day most days.  She is truly one of my very best friends and I know that I can count on her for absolutely anything.  Nothing is ever based on conditions with her and she expects nothing in return.  If I call and I say, “I need…” then she will answer with, “I will do my best to…”  Never have I heard her with the “What have you done for ME lately?” attitude that we see all too often in selfish parents these days.  If my sitter is unavailable, then she will head to Raleigh to pick the kids up after school.  When I fainted and couldn’t go to work for a week, she was there to drive me to the doctor and take care of me (even though she will admit that she is not a nurse in any sense of the word!).

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My gorgeous mother

And my father… I cannot say enough about him either.  He has always been my litmus test of what a true husband and man should be like and I am so thankful that he has taught me to have those high standards.  Watching the way people respond to him and respect him has always made me know that I want to be like him.  He has always treated EVERYONE like they are SOMEONE, no matter who they are.  I am thankful for all of the lessons I have learned from him over the years.

So to my mother and father, “I APPRECIATE YOU.”

2) MY BABYSITTER – Of course I thank her and I pay her, but I do not tell her enough just how much I appreciate how much she improves my life just by being in it.

She is so wonderful with the kids and is so dependable.  When you are a full-time working mom, it is such a comfort to know that someone is taking good care of your kids.  Someone is there to get them safely home from school, feed them a snack and help them with their homework.  It’s tough being a mom and not being able to be there to do those things yourself, so it puts your mind at ease to know that the kids love the person you have hired to be there.

So to Kara, “I APPRECIATE YOU.”

3) MY CHILDREN’S STEP-MOTHER – I am quickly learning that being a step-mother can sometimes put you in a precarious position.  You love your step-kids with every ounce of your being, while knowing and appreciating that you are not their true parent.  Then you face resistance from the other parent sometimes for showing too much love or for being too active in the lives of the step-kids… because you are “just their step-mother.”

My children’s step-mother is always there for my kids.  She often picks them up after a full day of work to take them back home with her so they can go to a practice or spend the night.  She takes fundraiser information to her office and tries to sell as much as she can.  She throws birthday parties if they want to have them there.  She has dealt with stomach viruses and lice and everything else… some of it even before she had a child of her own.

Essentially, she is their mother when they are with her… and I am thankful for someone who loves my kids as much as I do.  We may not ALWAYS see eye to eye about everything, but no matter what I am thankful for the role that she plays in the lives of my children – OUR children.

So to Amy, “I APPRECIATE YOU.”

4) I also want to do a blanket appreciation to my kids, my family, my in-laws, my ex-in-laws, my ex-husband, my friends, my minister, the music ministry, my boss and my co-workers.  These are all people who make my life a little easier every day in one way or another.  Even the random folks on Facebook who I haven’t seen in twenty years but who make me smile and encourage me through the internet.  I am thankful for every single one of you.

To all of you, “I APPRECIATE YOU.”

5) And most importantly, MY HUSBAND – I try to tell him how very much I appreciate him every single day.  He goes above and beyond in absolutely everything he does – as a husband, a father, a Christian.  Just like my father, he is kind to everyone and it is obviously well-noted by everyone because no matter where we go, people are quick to tell me how much they love Joe.  I hear on Facebook constantly how he is “the nicest guy” and how lucky I am.

I am SO LUCKY to have him in my life

I am SO LUCKY to have him in my life

And I KNOW how lucky I am… because I have been in the dating world and I know without a doubt that there are no men like Joe out there.  He loves my children as his own and he goes out of his way to be friendly to my children’s father.  Yesterday he took my daughter to school and realized after he signed her in that she had not talked to her dad before school like she does every morning.  Joe went back into the school, took her back out front and called her dad.  Her dad appreciated it so much.  That’s just the way Joe is… he knows how it feels to be a dad in a divorced situation and he couldn’t live with himself if he had even unknowingly not let her talk to her dad.  Just like that, he amazes me daily with how wonderful his heart is…

So I plan to do everything in my power to make sure that he knows every single day how appreciated he is.  Because I never intend to live a day without him in my life ever again.

Joe…. “I APPRECIATE YOU… MORE”

Be a Follower….

Dear loyal friends, family, lurkers and fans…

Three months ago I decided to close my old blog, “Life’s a Beach,” which was about my life as a single mother and transitioned to my new blog, “Life in a Blender,” which is about my life in a blended family.  I have truly enjoyed all of the support of my readers and I welcome your messages and comments.  My goal is to be an inspiration to others who may face the same issues that I have faced in the many facets of my life – divorce, single motherhood, remarriage.

WordPress shows me (as the admin for the page) how my readers are finding the blog and it appears there are those of you who actually daily go to Yahoo or Google and search for my blog by my name and/or the blog name.

The simplest thing to do is to “follow” my blog by clicking on the “follow” box in the bottom right hand corner of this page.  The following pops up:

CaptureAll you have to do is enter your email address and click “sign me up” and you will receive an email each time I post a blog.

My blog will be sent directly to your email address!!! No more searching.  No more checking in to see if I have posted.  You will receive it with no trouble for you.  Then you can read it or delete it.  Up to you.

Trust me, I know how busy life can be.  This is just one way to save you a few minutes in your busy day.  I usually say be a leader, but in this case… be a follower.

xoxo, me

P.S.  Check me out on FB too:  Life in a Blender

 

Discipline in a Blended Family

I solicited help on some blog topics and got so many great ideas that I have had trouble deciding what to write first!  Thank you to everyone who contributed.  Your continued support inspires me daily to keep doing what I love.

I thought the best way to do this would be in Q & A format and just answer a question or two at a time.  If you think of more questions, I welcome them.  I enjoy being challenged.

1) Who should the disciplinarian be with the kids and what role should the step-parent play in discipline, if any?

If there is one thing that I have learned from talking to my remarried friends or from reading the abundance of books I have read about successful step-families, it is that no two step-families are alike.  So just because something works for one family does not mean it will work for another.  It is truly dependent on the bonds that have been formed between the step-parent and the step-children.

One of the best Christian books I read about step-families said that the parent should be the disciplinarian at first while the step-parent should play a role similar to a babysitter.  As the bond between the step-kids and the step-parent grows, then the step-parent can gradually pick up more of a parental role when it comes to discipline.  I agree with that completely, but our family has proven to be a little different.

I am very proud of the way Joe and I introduced our families.  Since I had been divorced for many years when he came into our lives, he was pretty much incorporated in our family early on.  My children were more than ready for me to meet a nice man, so they were encouraging and happy from the beginning.  I truly believe that they knew from the start that Joe was good for me and for US as a family.  The kids would actually tell me how much nicer I was because of Joe.  Anytime I would do something extra nice for the kids, my son would say, “Did Joe tell you to do that?”

We waited much longer to bring his kids into the fold.  Joe’s kids did not have the time under their belt that my kids did.  We felt they needed more time to heal and adjust before throwing my kids and me in the mix.  After about six months together, we decided to introduce everyone.  From the start, I made it clear that I would not infringe on Joe’s time with his kids.  His kids came first and they knew that.  I did not want them to perceive me as a threat to their time with their dad.  It was hard, because I wanted to be with the man I loved, but I knew that the kids needed to have time to acclimate.  It has been smooth sailing every since.

You have to give them the time to get used to you so they can know you are not a threat to come between them and their dad.  Our kids have done a very good job at bonding and I think it is clear they have even formed an allegiance AGAINST US, but they are happy and that is all that really matters to me.  And this instant trust and strong relationship that we formed has allowed Joe and me to discipline more than I think would be recommended in new marriages.

Since we have four kids who match up – two boys 13 & 14 and two girls 10 & 11 – disciplining has been easy because anytime I have needed to discipline thus far, it has been to discipline both boys or both girls.  So I can discipline my step-child ALONG WITH my child.  Thankfully so far we have not had any major issues that we have had to handle, but the kids have seemed receptive to this because they see that they all four are disciplined the same.  However, if Joe is home, then I will usually tell him what I think and let him handle it with my step-kids and he seems to do the same thing vice-versa.  So even though we both feel comfortable with our disciplinarian roles, we also know when to back off and let the other one handle it.

As I have said before, our home is about open communication in every way, so we encourage the kids to talk to us if they feel that something is not working and so far things have been going well.  All four of our kids were begging us to get married, so there was no resistance from them regarding having a new step-parent in the home.  I feel certain if there is any resistance, then any disciplinarian role should be brought into play very slowly.

It’s also important to be very clear with expectations.  This is exceptionally important in our home right now because my birth kids are on summer break from school and my step-kids are already back in school.  As a result, my step-kids have to go to bed around 9:30pm while my daughter is up until 10:30pm and my son gets to stay up until midnight.  Surprisingly enough they have not struggled like I expected.  I feel certain that is because my step-kids are smart enough to know that the tables will turn in a month or so when they have track-out.

We tried to set them up for success by letting them know that the rules do not always apply the same to every person and that’s just the way it is.

LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR.

This was important to us because when we got married my kids quickly realized that Joe is a little more strict than I am.  For example, Joe had always taken his son’s phone and plugged it in another room at night.  My son has always plugged his phone into his alarm clock at night.  One of the first nights we were all together Joe walked into the boys’ room and said, “Let me have your phone” to his son.  The next day my son told me, “When Joe came in and asked for his phone, I was really worried.  I thought he was getting ready to ask me for mine too.”  I explained to him that we were going to do our best to keep the rules that we had in place before marriage.  I think this approach has been comforting to the kids.

Again, let me reiterate that every single family is different and just because this is working for our family does not mean it will work with yours.  In reality, there is no guarantee this will work for our family next week!  Just like in a first marriage family, we are all constantly evolving and growing and we have to do what we can to respect each other while we do so.

In The Big Leagues – Part II

I know, I know, I know… I said I would post part two days and days ago, but I just didn’t.  This particular topic has been a struggle for me because there are just SO MANY things that we are doing differently this time that choosing the top five things has been tough.  Very tough.

A few days ago I went to dinner with one of my best friends who just recently got engaged.  We had a beautiful backdrop at the Boylan Bridge Brewpub and we talked about some serious stuff.

Gorgeous view with a gorgeous friend...

Gorgeous view with a gorgeous friend…

She has two kids and is also marrying a (wonderful) man with two kids… and she wanted to pick my brain about how we are “making it work.”  They will also be a party of six in just a few short months.

I told her that I was actually writing a blog about five things that we are doing differently this time around and she burst into laughter and said, “Just FIVE??? I feel like we are doing EVERYTHING differently!”  And that is so true.  Often in new relationships we find ourselves wanting to do everything exactly the opposite considering we have always been told that the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  But sometimes not EVERYTHING needs to be different if the people involved are different.

In my blog the other day I talked about the first two things that I feel like I am doing differently this time around…   Communication & Releasing Control.   Here are the next three:

3) Having Date Night – We are working really hard to focus on nurturing our relationship.  The kids know this because we hug nonstop.  Yep, nonstop.  We even slow-danced at Highway 55 last weekend at the lake while waiting on our dinner order.  Joe’s kids were with us and they were red-faced and laughing.  As part of nurturing our relationship, we are making sure to schedule weekly date nights.  That has been an easy task this summer because we have had a lot of time without kids.  We try to do it when we have no kids, because my son in particular has stressed that he doesn’t want us doing date night when we have them.  As I have said, he is the one with the most resistance to change and he is not used to me ever getting a sitter when the kids are with me.  Even while Joe and I were dating, we would always do our date nights every other weekend when my kids were with their dad.

We even have started doing “in-home date nights” while the kids are with us.  When we were at the beach for a week last month with all of the kids, we told them one night that we were having date night and they were not allowed to come upstairs until 10pm.  That gave us a couple of hours to snuggle on the couch and spend time together.  They stayed downstairs watching tv and playing Xbox.  We had a nice time and at exactly 10pm all four kids were standing at the end of the couch together (the mental picture is awesome and I wish I had it to show you) saying, “Did you have a nice date night?  Because it’s OVER now…”  And they jumped onto the large sectional sofa with us to settle in and watch tv.

They may laugh at us, but I am thankful that our children can see what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like.  Before my divorce, that was one of the hardest things for me to swallow.  I knew that our relationship was dysfunctional, but all I could think about was that my children would grow up thinking that was NORMAL… and I was NOT okay with that.  Now they see how important our relationship is to us.  They don’t see us living separate lives in the same home.  They see how much we enjoy being together.  Our relationship is the glue to our family.

Now that we have our own “studio apartment” essentially, we can have date night any night we want to turn the skeleton key in the door.  We have Joe’s sectional sofa in our bedroom now, so we have our own living area along with our bed.  We have joked that if we had an electric skillet to cook bacon and a dorm-room refrigerator then we would never have to even leave our room… hmm.

4) Keeping the Faith –  Our faith is such an important part of our relationship.   By making our individual relationships with God the priority, we are better equipped to handle the challenges and struggles that we will surely face while blending families.  Marriage is the firmest foundation there is but it is not ALL about happiness… it’s about encouraging your spouse and steering him/her in the right path to have a strong relationship with Christ.  This is especially true if you have to have day-to-day dealings with a difficult ex.  We have to continue to keep the focus on Christ-centered thinking and not allow outsiders to affect our relationship.  We encourage one another to have an other-centered attitude even when dealing with people who are completely self-centered and toxic.

This is very important to me because I have never been in a relationship where it was clear that Christ comes first.  I am so thankful to have someone like Joe, who is such a strong spiritual leader in our home.  We work hard to model our Christ-like love and commitment at home in front of our children so they see His witness through us, then they can KNOW that divorce is not even an option for us.  That gives our kids stability in an otherwise unstable time.

And even if we are not treated well by others, which is common after a divorce, we must always show a heart of compassion.  At every meal we pray for the food we will receive, we pray for family members who are sick, and we pray for the part of the family that is not with us on that day… we even make a special point if the kids are going back to the other half of their family that we pray they will have a good time and be safe while away.  We demonstrate kindness toward their other parent because we cannot show the kids Christ’s love if we cannot even show an ounce of kindness toward someone who is that important to them.

And, finally…

5) Affirming One Another – Both Joe and I have taken Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages test and not surprisingly, we are both very high on “Words of Affirmation” and “Physical Touch.”  What that means is that we both show and receive love by hugging each other and telling each other how much we mean to one another.

Joe does SO MUCH.  As I have said over and over, I am not sure how I made it through the day without him in my life.  Even as I am sitting here writing this afternoon, he is marinating salmon and doing tons of laundry.  In the past, that stuff would just not get done… or my writing would just not get done.  When there is only one of you, you just can’t do everything!  It is great to have someone say, “Why don’t you let me go get him from practice so you can help her with her homework.”  Because of this, I tell him EVERY SINGLE DAY just how thankful I am for him.  No matter how small the deed, I try to look him in the eyes and thank him for what he has done.

And he does the same thing… we work hard to say thank you to each other because we are so appreciative for WHAT WE HAVE.  We make sure that we never whine about what we DON’T have.  It’s very important for me that he feels my unconditional love for him because I know that he has never experienced that kind of love.  So I make sure that he knows that while I appreciate all that he does, I do NOT expect it.  And I am SO THANKFUL.

So those are the five things that we are doing differently this time around: Communicating, Releasing Control, Having Date Night, Keeping the Faith, and Affirming One Another.  While there are plenty of other things we are trying to do differently, those are what I consider to be my top five.  I know that as our relationship progresses out of the “honeymoon stage” (which personally, I am not sure at this point could EVER happen) that other things will arise and we will continue to have challenges regarding our ex-spouses, but the strength in our relationship due to the work we put INTO IT will make all the difference.

No More Practice Games… We Are In The Big Leagues Now

This is going to sound pretty conceited, but I admit that when I first got separated I thought a fabulous man would swoop in and take me away pretty quickly.

I mean, I’m Valerie….

Yeah, that was nine years ago… and I just got married in May.  I spent over a quarter of my life as a single mom.

I did not envision my ex getting involved and married before me.  I did not envision failed relationships, heartbreak and lies.  I did not envision lonely nights when I cried because I thought I would never meet someone worthwhile for my kids and me.  After a while I was hardened to the whole process and just resigned myself to the fact that I probably would never get married.  I convinced myself I was better alone so that I could just focus on my kids.

Then came Joe… and here I am.

Through it all though, there was ONE THING I was sure of…  When people would ask me, “Do you think you will ever get married again?”  I would answer with, “I’m not sure if I’ll ever get married again, but I KNOW with certainty that I won’t ever get divorced again.”

Now, more than ever, I am determined to never get divorced again.  Joe and I agree that it is not even an option.  Of course it’s easy to say that now since we are still very much in the “honeymoon stage” of marriage, but this resolve has forced me to think about things that I am doing differently this time to make sure we don’t end up as just another statistic.

That’s the beauty of remarriage.  This is our chance to get it right! We can both look at our first marriages as practice runs that have made us all the better for the real thing.  We have learned from our past relationships and have a fresh outlook and a positive energy for our new relationship.  We can look at our past and know what we will never accept going forward and we know that we will do whatever we have to do to make it work.

After thinking about this all weekend at the lake, I came up with the top five things that we are focusing on to beat the odds of second marriages to ensure that this is our “forever marriage.”  Tonight I will share the first two…

1) Communication – I have talked about this in numerous blogs already, but it is truly the foundation of our relationship.  When Joe and I first started dating, he quickly realized what a straight shooter I am.  I am not a score keeper… I don’t hold grudges and then throw them back in your face later.  I feel something, so I say it.  Some people don’t like that, but it is how I am.  I remember sitting in Starbucks one morning and we were talking about how much we joke.  Sometimes we joke so much that it is hard to tell when we are being serious… So we adopted a “safe word” that we still use today.  It’s a word we can say that will immediately alert the other that this is a moment to listen without judgment.

Communication skills, or lack thereof, can be the downfall of a marriage.  We have learned from our past relationships that we can have a stronger family and a healthier relationship when everyone knows that they can share their true feelings.  We are constantly encouraging the kids to say what they truly feel rather than just regurgitating what they THINK we want to hear.  We want our children to be leaders and we want them to be able to respectfully speak their minds without fear of judgment.

So we have adopted a “safe word” with the kids too.  We want them to be able to say the safe word and everyone understands that it means, “Look, I’m going out on a limb to say this and you may resent me for it, but it is important to me.”  It has helped us all work through issues as they arise when we can actually talk and discover what is really important in the situation.

I have also been working on communicating with my stepkids without Joe present.  Little moments like when everyone else runs to the bathroom and it’s just my stepson and me… or when my stepdaughter and I drive home alone from basketball.  I use that as my time to build trust and communication with them.  I have told them both numerous times that I can be their biggest advocate with their dad if they talk to me.   We are all doing what we can to work on our communication.

2) Releasing Control – This has been tough for me because I have been flying solo for so long that I am very much accustomed to being in complete control.  Now that I have six schedules all on one calendar, I am realizing that there are too many variables to have complete control.  Especially right now since Joe’s two kids are back in school and my two kids are still on our summer custody schedule.  Our custody schedule is like a revolving door of kids shuffling in and out of the building.  Throw in basketball camp and beach trips and it’s hard to even find one night when we will all be under the same roof.  Because of this, I have had to go with the flow a little more than I am comfortable…but I am learning.

I’ve also had to release a little control when it comes to timing.  I am used to doing everything on “my time.”  Leaving town for vacation or going to a Durham Bulls game, I like to know exactly what time we need to leave and I will have everyone out the door at that time.  I like to follow a schedule, so I won’t just say we are leaving at 9pm and then not be ready.  That’s just not my thing.  They are apparently not accustomed to my “departure nazi” status, but if you want to see me in full swing, tell me the boat is leaving the dock at a certain time.  I don’t play games when it comes to going out on the boat.

I’ve had to ease up a bit because Joe’s kids aren’t used to my need to be out the door on time.  If Joe says we need to be in the car at 9:20am so we can get to church on time, then I will be standing at the back door yelling at everyone at 9:15am.  I have not always been like this… when I first got divorced I did EVERYTHING on “Val Time.”  If I felt like taking the kids to school 20 minutes late so I could sleep in, then I did.  I was tired of being told what to do and I guess I rebelled.  Over the years though I have grown to resent being late.  The kids know the anxiety it causes me, so they are ready to go when I say we are going somewhere.  I have had to let go of some of this control because my stepkids haven’t learned to follow my time warnings quite yet – but they will.

Another thing I have had to release control of is doing everything for myself.  After years of getting up and making my own coffee and washing all the clothes and fixing meals and doing the dishes, I am just not used to allowing someone else to help me.  In the past, if I wanted it done, then I had to do it.  Period.  So it has been an adjustment for me to LET Joe HELP ME…  Sounds crazy, but I resisted at first even small things like picking one child up so I could take the other somewhere else.  He is so kind and so thoughtful and wants so much to make my life easier, but I would resist and still try to prove to him and myself that I could still take care of everything on my own.

It’s babysteps, but I am learning to let go of control… and it really is a relief.

More to come tomorrow…….

“But I’m STARVING to DEATH!”

It’s official!  Joe and I have made it seamlessly through our first two months of marriage.  Well, maybe “seamlessly” is a stretch, but it has truly gone much smoother than I would have expected.  Blending two families into one (and fitting all of their junk and our junk into one big pile of junk) is not an easy task.  But after two months, the rooms are pretty much set up to the kids’ liking and every day more things are finding their place – even if their place is in the yard sale pile.

And every day we are each finding our “place.”  As can be expected, there is resistance on all of our parts in little ways – even with Joe and me.  So far though it seems the biggest resistance is coming from my sweet boy.

My son was only four when his father and I got divorced.  Since then he has had to grow up faster than most kids.  He was fixing his own breakfast and getting dressed on his own from very early on.  He is a very responsible kid, so I have not had to stay on him much about things.  He does his work (most of the time) and he does his workouts and even if given the option to stay up, he usually chooses to go to bed at a reasonable time if he feels tired.  For years now he has come home from school and fixed his own snack and done his work without being prompted or supervised.  He has been the man of the house with a lot of independence for almost nine years, so this is a big change to now have three more people in the house – and more rules.

The thing he seems to be having the most trouble with is the food rationing.  While that sounds rather harsh, it’s the best way to describe what we have been doing.  We have told the kids that there are certain snacks and foods that are reserved for school lunches – prepackaged chips and cookies, Gatorades and chocolate milk.  My boy just CANNOT get this.  Every single day he asks, “Can I have a Gatorade?” or “Can I have a chocolate milk?”  And we are still finding Oreo wrappers and chip wrappers in the basement playroom each night.  When you tell him to make his own chocolate milk with milk & chocolate syrup, he looks at you like you have punched him in the gut.

I think he would like to come home to something like this every single day...

I think he would like to come home to something like this every single day…

I have a hard time cracking the whip on this because I realize that he has had to adapt to a lot of changes in his short life.   At the same time, I know that my knowledge of this is being taken advantage of…  He knows that I will cut him slack, so he pushes the envelope.  He acts like he’s starving all of the time although we have told them there is limitless cheese & crackers, peanut butter & crackers, cereal, fruit, Easy Mac, etc.  But he is smart enough to know that no mother can stand to hear their child say they are “STARVING TO DEATH.”

This week all four kids have been at basketball camp.  When we took them all on Monday for sign in, I put $20 in each of their accounts for food.  That may not sound like a lot, but it costs about $3 total for a lunch (with a drink) and we sent them each with a Gatorade, a pack of Oreos and some Nabs in their bags.  My son came home on Tuesday and said, “I have $1 left in my account” and the sitter said that each day on the ride home he was eating his Oreos and Nabs in the car.

He spent $19 in two days!!!  Even the rest of the kids were shocked.  They all had about $12 left.  In an attempt to persuade the remaining three to be frugal, we told them they could keep whatever money they had left in their account at the end of the week.  I gave my boy $5 more (I had intended to give each $25 anyway, but wanted to see if they could make it) and sent them on their way.  The girls were thrilled because they wanted to make it through the week on the original $20 so they could get $5 on Friday.

My son?  Not so much… He apparently blew right through the additional $5.

This morning as I was walking to my office from the parking garage, my son called.  He was frantic, “Mom, remember the $5 you owe me for pulling weeds last weekend?  Can I get it for lunch?”  Yes, he actually believed that I would leave work and drive to the camp to give him the $5 (insert laughing mom here).  I told him that I was walking in to work and he would have to ask Joe.  Joe had two $20 bills and four $1 bills, so he gave my son $4.  Again, the other kids kept saying, “Seriously, WHAT have you been buying to already spend $25??” His response? “Just let it go!”

Tonight we are taking the kids to a baseball game.  In an effort to save some money, we are ordering pizza and a 2-liter of Mountain Dew to have before the game so that we can just get the kids one snack each at the game.

I am already waiting for the backlash from my boy – the shoulder shrugs, the deep breaths, the mumbling, the talking back. He just does NOT seem to understand that our family has completely doubled in size, so the cost of food has doubled as well.   He has always been so thin that I have encouraged his large eating habits.  I still do, but I want him to eat smarter now.  Buying snacks at camp and then eating the snacks he took to camp on the way home is NOT smart eating.  It’s a waste of money.

Anyway, we are obviously a constant work in progress, but the important thing is the past two months have been so easy for all of us, with just a few minor hiccups (it’s amazing how unhappy people try to spread their unhappiness).  Thankfully each attempt to cause misery only makes our family stronger.  Our focus is on God, our relationship with each other, and getting the kids through this time of transition.  Nothing else matters in the least.

And it’s obvious that the kids are adjusting well… When we are all spending time together, the constant smiles on their faces and the calmness in their spirits prove to us that everything is going to be just fine…

#truth

#truth

…and Joe and I agree that the past two months have been the best days of our entire lives.

Los Pantalones Del Fuego

I am definitely not perfect… of this I am acutely aware. But if there is one thing I am NOT, it is a liar. I am absolutely honest to a fault. I learned a long time ago that as someone with expressive brown eyes, there really is no point in trying to lie. I had to accept the truth that a poker player I will never be. I know I will never be perfect, but no matter how imperfect I may be, I know I should always strive to be a good person. And good people should not lie.

I have a hard time understanding how some people can lie as easily as breathe. And how confusing to have to keep track of your lies and who you told what so that they don’t catch you. I would have an absolute panic attack trying to keep up with my lies. I would have to create some sort of app for my iphone that kept track and cross-referenced my lies so that I wouldn’t worry about it nonstop.

I have dated people throughout my life who have lied to me continuously and I was too naïve to even think that they were not being honest. Over the past few years I have become much better at figuring out who to trust and who not to trust. As a general rule I chose to just not trust anyone. Admittedly that is not the best attitude to have, but now that we have two teenage boys in our home it is probably a pretty good policy to have.

As a friend of ours who has three teenage daughters told us one night, “They are all liars. Just know if anything comes out of their mouths, it is lies.” And we are learning this is true… in small but upsetting ways.

So why DO they lie? And where in the world do they learn such behavior? Joe and I strive to live honest, open lives that are full of trust and love and communication. So why do we find the kids lying to us about small and insignificant things? And if they lie about something as small as, “I didn’t text you back because I didn’t see your text” (when you saw the read receipt and can see on the phone bill that he was texting friends at the very same time), then what else are they lying about?

I think a lot of this culture of lying is learned behavior. So many parents are unaware of just how much their kids hear – driving in the car talking on the phone or talking in another room while the kids are home. The kids hear one thing being said and then another being said and they process it all… They hear their mom telling a story about their dad that they know isn’t true or they hear their dad lie to a customer about why they can’t meet that afternoon. How can we expect our children to tell the truth if they see us being less than truthful?

The worst is when I hear about parents who encourage lies to the other parents – seemingly as an “I’m on your side” thing, but it is teaching the child that lying is okay. What may seem like an innocent little white lie, “You can call your dad back in the morning… I will tell him you were asleep,” essentially says to your child, “It’s okay to lie to dad if it’s convenient for you to do so.” As a parent, you need to model the behavior that you want to see in your child. They are like puppets and they learn from what they see in you.

One of my friends going through a divorce told me about a talk she had with her four year old that I thought was good. She said that she told her daughter, “If either your father or I ever say to you, ‘Don’t tell your mom’ or ‘Don’t tell your dad,’ then we have done something we know is wrong and the first thing you need to do is tell the other parent.” I think that’s a good rule of thumb for a divorced family. If one parent doesn’t want the other parent to know – where the kids spent the night, who spent the night, how late the kids stay up, what someone said – then it’s probably something the other parent needs to know.

This has been on my mind lately because the other night, my sweet bonus daughter said, “Valerie, you lied to me.” I looked at her baffled because I know that I never lie and asked her what she was talking about. She said, “The other night I asked you if we had any ice cream and you said no.” I made a quick inventory in my brain of everything we have in the freezer and I said with confidence, “We DON’T have any ice cream.” And she said, “Yes we do. Come here.” She led me into the pantry and showed me some peppermint ice cream in the deep freezer that may have been there since the 1900’s (not really, but that’s fun to say).

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We would have to use an ice pick to chop that ice cream out of the deep freeze!!

Joe and I both had a talk with her about how we will not lie. I explained that the ice cream she was talking about was so old it was stuck in the freezer and that if we HAD ice cream I would tell her, “Yes, we have ice cream, but you can’t have any right now,” before I lied and said, “Sorry, we don’t have any.” That is just not how I roll. There are some parents who don’t like to be the “bad guy,” so they would rather lie than just tell their kids “no.”

I think the kids all know that Joe and I are true to our word. As you have heard me say before, our home is a home of open communication and no fear. We want to teach our children that words may lie, but actions will always tell the truth. They will grow up and know whose word to believe based on how they see us live.

 

Vacation… All I Ever Wanted

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It’s a cool, breezy morning at the beach. I am sitting on the front porch of the cottage drinking my coffee and listening to the sweet sound of wind chimes, the ocean waves, and Applewood smoked bacon sizzling on the skillet. Normally on the weekend my schedule does not allow me to hear the bacon cooking (by schedule I mean I’m usually still knee deep in the sheets while Joe is cooking breakfast). I usually wake up to the end result resting on paper towels in the kitchen.

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But today is different. Today is day one of our first true family vacation.

My heart is so full of love and thankfulness today. So much so that I woke up bright and early and had a little talk with God. It’s days like today when you realize just how much you have to thank the big guy for…

As I remind my kids all the time, there are many people who do not have the luxury to go to the beach at all. It’s hard for them to imagine – considering where we live and the friends they have. As far as they can tell, everyone is a member of “the club” (except us) and everyone spends most of the summer traveling abroad or living at the beach. It’s important to me to instill in my kids an understanding of just how blessed they are.

I think God is agreeing with me right this second because I feel it heavy on my heart that once we return home I need to get my kids involved in some sort of charity to teach them to help others. As the speaker said at my graduation from boarding school, “To whom much is given, much is expected” and there are plenty of opportunities to help others in Raleigh.

My kids are in Myrtle Beach with their dad because their aunt is getting married today so we are meeting their dad to pick them up tonight. It has been nice to get to spend a little one on one time with my bonus kids. Because my kids are with us most of the time and Joe’s kids are with us 50% of the time, it is rare that we get alone time with his kids… and it is obvious that they enjoy it!

Sweet girl loves to just sit down and talk. I put down everything I’m doing to just look her in the eyes and listen. It warms my heart abundantly to see the look in her eyes as she tells me story after story. It’s like she wants to fill me in on everything that has happened since we last talked. She likes the attention being on her too… as we were walking to the beach last night I reached my hand out to Joe and she slid quickly between us to hold both of our hands. Like my daughter, they like to get in the middle of us whenever they can. In our house, a hug between Joe and me quickly becomes a “group hug.”

So right now I am sitting here on the porch with sweet girl next to me and she is writing on her laptop too. We are listening to music and it’s raining… and there is nowhere I would rather be. As I’ve said before, when I was little and dreamed of my fairy tale ending, I had no idea it would be with two bonus kids who I love like my own.

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BLESSINGS ABOUND.

 

What is a weekend?

I walked into work this morning and the first thing a co-worker said to me was, “How was your weekend?”  I had to pause for a minute, because what came to mind was the scene from Downton Abbey where Maggie Smith says, “What is a weekend?”

Best show EVER....

Best show EVER….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhfpBW-nUWk

Seriously, what IS a week-END?  I don’t feel like the week EVER ENDS………..

Of course I wish that my reason for not knowing what a “weekend” is would be the same as that of Lady Grantham.  She doesn’t know what a week-END is because she does not work and probably has no need to even know what day of the week it is!  I, on the other hand, have to constantly know exactly what day it is because I have six separate schedules of which to keep track.

Maybe this lack of a week-END is so hard on me because I am in dire need of a vacation.  I know that’s true.  Last summer Joe and I spent most free weekends at the beach.  It was absolutely glorious because it was a true escape from reality.  We would briefly speak to our kids on the phone, but most of the time was spent sitting on the beach with good tunes and strong drinks.  When we weren’t on the beach, we were napping in the air conditioning.

There is something about the water that brings me peace...

There is something about the water that brings me peace…

NO CARES….

I need these days to survive!

I need these days to survive!

So far it appears the carefree summer weekends at the beach alone with my honey are a distant pipedream this year.  Between both of my kids playing AAU basketball, we are spending every Saturday and some Sundays in hot gyms.  Throw summer custody schedules in the mix and we will have some weekends when we won’t have my kids, but we will have Joe’s kids one night.

Where are my weekends?????????

I imagine a great weekend as a Friday night spent cooking a nice dinner, listening to some good tunes and just being together.  We could even have a fire pit out back and just BE.  Of course a perfect weekend would also include sleeping late (for me – Joe doesn’t know what sleeping late means) and then doing something productive for a few hours (such as walking up to Starbucks at North Hills, going to a farmer’s market or sitting on the beach), then taking a nice afternoon nap before getting up and getting ready for a fun night out with friends – listening to a band or sitting outside at a restaurant over a nice meal with good wine flowing.  Church on Sunday is a must and then a lazy afternoon around the house.  THAT would be a perfect weekend for me.

Perfection...

Perfection…

Basketball will eventually come to an end and we can enjoy those few weeks of quiet before soccer starts back up.  Because an even better weekend would be to do all of the things listed above, but with our kids…

FAMILY FIRST.  Sometimes solitude is overrated anyway…

Unsung Heroes in Our Home

We have almost reached our three week mark in our new normal.  Admittedly, we have all had a little bit of looming fear about how all of the changes would affect us on a daily basis.  Overall though we have not had any major issues.  The kids seem to understand the way things work and are adjusting and are truly enjoying spending time together.  I keep waiting for a blow up, but none have occurred…YET.

While we all seem to be adjusting well (even Silky), there are some unsung heroes who may be having a harder time:

The poor dishwasher is working itself to death with the amount of cups we go through.

The poor dishwasher is working itself to death with the amount of cups we go through.

The kids have apparently gone CUP CRAZY.  Every day there are a million cups all over the house.  They use cups like they use toilet paper – use it once and then go get a new one.  It is exhausting!  My poor dishwasher has never gotten as much use as it gets now.  I think that I used to run in once every few days, but now it is getting run nightly because it is filled to the top.

The washer and dryer have never seen this much action....

The washer and dryer have never seen this much action….

Laundry.  I don’t even know where to start.  Thankfully Joe is the laundry guy because if you know me at all then you know I HATE LAUNDRY.  Before we got married, I would wait and do laundry about once a week.  It would be about five loads, but I would knock it all out in one day.  We ALWAYS had dirty clothes.  With Joe in the house, we NEVER have dirty clothes.  I heard one of my kids a couple of nights ago say, “This is already clean? I wore it yesterday!”  They have never heard of such a thing!!! Joe does at least one load a night, so the washing machine is taking a beating.  Joe pointed out that his excessive use of the washing machine was positive in other ways too though because no snake would want to be in the basement since there is finally movement down there!

We need to place bets on how long this bad boy will hold up!!!

We need to place bets on how long this bad boy will hold up!!!

Six people taking a shower puts a lot more work on our friend the hot water heater.  We try to be nice to it by getting the girls to shower at night and the boys to shower in the morning.  Throw in there any days where Joe and I workout and then we may take more than one shower a day.  Plus it has to work in cahoots with the dishwasher and the washing machine!  I am praying it will hold out for us and not give up.

While I am dreading to see our first electric bill with everyone in the house, I am so happy that we are all adjusting so well.  I had a bad day at work yesterday and was in a terrible mood when I drove up our driveway.  The boys were outside playing and both yelled hello to me.  I got two good hugs and went inside.  Once inside I got two more hugs from the girls and a hug and kiss from Joe.  By the time I had finished preparing dinner, I was smiling and laughing.  Just being in the presence of all four of our happy kids and feeling so loved by my husband, I had forgotten about my day and was focusing on what is truly important – OUR FAMILY.

The appliances are just collateral damage of having a home full of kids and love… and the appliances can be easily replaced.